On 27 November, Israel and Hamas agreed to a two-day extension of their initial four-day truce in the conflict in Gaza. Since 24 November, the ceasefire had facilitated the release of more than 80 hostages held by Hamas and 180 Palestinians from Israeli prisons. The extension is expected to enable further prisoner exchanges and suggestions that both sides are open to additional truce days after the current agreement expires. But, with Israeli leaders unwavering in their commitment to dismantling Hamas - and military leaders alluding to preparation for a military campaign that could extend over several months - a resumption of hostilities remains likely.
After more than a month of fighting, destroying Hamas’ political structures and dismantling the group’s military capabilities has proved challenging. Some estimates place Hamas’ losses at 1,000-2,000 fighters, a small fraction of its 30,000 members, and although rocket attacks into Israel have declined in frequency, Hamas is likely showing restraint to ensure its weapons stockpile can sustain a long conflict. There is also little indication that Israel has destroyed a significant portion of Hamas’ vast and critical underground tunnel network.
Considering these factors, there remains legitimate concern that the conflict will not only resume but extend into southern Gaza where most civilians – and several senior Hamas commanders, according to Israel – have taken shelter. The potential expansion of conflict into these areas has drawn caution from the US and other Western nations, particularly in light of the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.
This escalation, if it occurs, brings with it greater uncertainty over the US and region’s response to Israel’s campaign and the wider impact of the conflict. A southern expansion will likely put renewed pressure on Egypt’s Rafah border crossing, spark renewed pro-Palestinian protests as citizens demand their governments do more to prevent a worsening humanitarian crisis and could unravel regional efforts to de-escalate tensions. With this in mind, despite the current calm, it is clear that an imminent resolution and a return to the way things were remains elusive.